Let’s face it, we don’t have expensive housing in Australia, we have expensive land. The average cost of residential land overtook the median cost of constructing a dwelling, across all Australian capitals, about five years ago. The difference between the two is now considerable and growing. Volume builders in Queensland are constructing quality new detached homes for well under $1,000 per square metre.
The proof is readily available. Across the south-east corner of Queensland, for example, the price of vacant land per metre is now 2.3 times (230%) what is was a decade ago. Established house prices (which include the price of land) also increased, but at a lower rate – they are 1.5 times (150%) the price a decade ago. The cost of new project homes, which exclude the cost of land, are just 0.65 times (65% higher) what they were a decade earlier.
Land is expensive because we have a shortage of it. To the rest of the world, such a statement would be bordering on lunacy. Australia is one of the most spacious countries – based on total land area per capita – in the western world, after all. And yet, ironically, we are one of the most urbanized places on the planet.
Over-governance, green politics and town planning tomfoolery are corralling us into a handful of already crowded places. This has created a shortage of land, driving up its price and resulting in fewer economically feasible developable sites. Land now accounts for about two-thirds of the cost of a new home in our major capitals and close to half in our regional centres.
There is no better place to illustrate how out of whack the system is than on the Gold Coast. The Queensland Government and the local council are doing everything they can to make housing on the Gold Coast unaffordable, and in turn, undermining employment.
Despite what we read in the daily press, the Gold Coast market – in terms of total stock – isn’t oversupplied. There is just way too much of the wrong stock and too little of that which is in demand.
The oversupplied stock consists largely of apartments, mostly in high-rise towers and priced over $800,000. By default, this targets a short-term tourist market, which for the most part cannot afford to pay the tariffs. In contrast, apartments under $600,000 are undersupplied but are suffering collateral damage, so to speak, given the negative commentary about the apartment market in general on the Gold Coast.
There isn’t enough new detached housing or new townhouse development on the Coast. The SEQ Regional Plan (which covers a time period from 2008 to 2031), expects 77% of new development on the Gold Coast to be “infill” i.e. medium and high-rise dwellings.
However, just three years into the plan, only half of the new starts are in “infill” areas. The demand for detached housing is rising and is currently about 70% of the overall demand. It can only be provided, and at an affordable price, on “greenfield” sites. There are plenty of these sites available on the Gold Coast.
There is little government can, or should, do about the price of “infill” real estate. But there’s a lot they can and should do about affordable housing in “greenfield” areas. This is where there’s an infinite supply of land available and a housing industry ready, willing and able to build top-quality houses at unbelievably low prices.
The Gold Coast doesn’t just need a new police helicopter, the Commonwealth Games or even a light rail system; what it needs is jobs. Close to 25% of the region’s economic growth comes from new construction, with over 30% of its workforce employed (directly and indirectly) in the building trade. It needs much more new detached housing.
It also needs to open up its industrial land bank to new business. It must incentivize new operations to move to the Coast. It should be all about permanent jobs and industries which have higher employment multipliers, rather than one-off feel-good events, white elephants and election stunts.
Thousands of people are being denied the opportunity to replicate what those now running the show were able to do, i.e. to get a start in the housing market. This is not only socially and economically unsound, but morally wrong!
Michael Matusik is Australia’s leading property analyst and this report is republished with permission of Matusik Property Insights.